Notes from Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America By Theodora Kroeber

A powerful read – and a reminder of the horrors our societies inflicted on others.

p. 5 “San Nicolas Island, one of the Channel Islands of the Pacific Ocean some 70 miles offshore from Santa Barbara…. In 1835, the padres of Mission Santa Barbara transferred the San Nicholas Indians to the mainland. A few minutes after the boat had put off from the island, it was found that one baby had been left behind. It is not easy to land a boat on San Nicolas; the captain decided against returning for the baby; the baby’s mother jumped overboard, and was last seen swimming towards the island. Half-hearted efforts made to find her in subsequent weeks were unsuccessful. It was believed she had drowned in the rough surf. In 1853, 18 years later, seal hunters in the Channel waters reported seeing a woman on San Nicolas, and a boatload of men from Santa Barbara went in search of her. They found her, a last survivor of her tribe. Her baby, as well as all her people who had been removed to the Mission, had died. She lived only a few months after her “rescue” and died without anyone having been able to communicate with her, leaving to posterity this skeletal outline of her grim story, and four words which someone remembers from her lost language and recorded as she said them. It happens that these four words identify her language as having been Shochonean, related to the Indian languages of the Los Angeles area, not to those of Santa Barbara.”

p. 1 “The story of Ishi begins for us early in the morning of the 29th day of August in the year 1911 and in the corral of a slaughterhouse. It begins with the sharp barking of dogs which roused the sleeping butchers. In the dawn light they say a man at bay, crouching against the corral fence – Ishi.”

He was the last survivor of a group of Yahi who in c. 1870 p. 90 “retreated to the inner fastness of their own heartland … what A.L. Kroeber calls ‘the smallest free nation in the world, which by an unexampled fortitude and stubbornness of character succeeded in holding out … 25 years longer even than Geronimo’s famous band of Apaches’ … [initially probably 15/16, soon only “two men, two women, and a child.”

p. 94 know none of their names “not even Ishi’s, for Ishi is not a personal name, it means simply ‘man’.”

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